Location: South Pittsburg, Tenn.
Course architects: Tad King and Rob Collins
Par: 36 (Nine holes)
Tee — Yardage | Rating / Slope:
Black — 3,301 yards | None
Blue — 3,093 yards | None
White — 2,726 yards | None
Red — 2,272 yards | None
Saturday morning green fee: $ (under $50)
Caddie service: No
Walker friendly: Yes
Fairways: Tifway 419 Bermudagrass
Greens: MiniVerde Bermudagrass
Starter: King and Collins reimagined a flat, featureless, flood-prone parcel formerly known as the Sequatchie Valley Golf and Country Club – “Squishy Valley,” as the locals dubbed it – into a classic of modern golf-course design. The architects took plenty of chances, moving 300,000 cubic yards of earth to shape heaving, sand-capped terrain and wild green complexes. Golfers and critics alike have embraced it. In only a few years, Sweetens Cove, which sits 25 minutes west of Chattanooga via Interstate 24, has become a destination. Golfweek magazine ranks it as the best public-access course in Tennessee. That’s big praise for a little nine-hole country track.
Play because …: Few places in American golf capture the game’s essential elements as well as Sweetens Cove. It’s walkable, affordable, scenic and downright fun. What’s not to like? Ignore the grass parking lot, gravel drive, tiny shed/pro shop and lack of a practice range or clubhouse. Sweetens Cove was built as a monument to pure golf – walking golf – with no attention, energy or expense diverted to the game’s frivolous modern accoutrements. Even the scorecard, a 4¾-by-6-inch two-color design, emphasizes pragmatism.
Takeaway: Creative architecture and quality turf conditions combine with endless shot-making options to make Sweetens Cove a must-play for golfers of any skill. The green complexes, with their bold, rolling contours, defend par while sparking creativity. Be sure to play a second (and maybe even third) nine to enjoy the alternative angles and club selection. Just remember to pack drinks and snacks. The “clubhouse” offers little more than a place to pay. If you leave Sweetens Cove without having played every club in the bag, then you didn’t use your imagination.
Pro shop: 1.0
Course difficulty: 8.0
Pace of play: 8.0
Best par 3: No. 4 (169 | 169 | 146 | 114 yards). The only hole given a nickname, “King” salutes not co-designer Tad King but the late King Oehmig, a giant in Chattanooga-area golf and an inspiration behind Sweetens Cove. No. 4, like the man for whom it was named, leaves quite an impression. A semi-blind tee shot – the proper club can be anything from a short iron to a hybrid or even fairway wood, depending on hole location – plays into a Himalayas-style green that is 20,000 square feet of MiniVerde madness, running 93 yards from front to back. It’s more than merely massive. Sweeping breaks and falloffs on all sides, plus a collection area in the middle of the boomerang-shaped putting surface, are likely to leave first-timers smiling despite a potential three- (or even four-) putt. Who knew that bogeys could be so much fun?
Best par 4: No. 8 (387 | 361 | 333 | 285 yards). By this point in the round, you might be thinking that the course couldn’t get any more stimulating. Hang on. The 100-plus-yard-wide fairway actually rewards a drive hit wide left or wide right. That’s because of the ideal approach angle into a canted, Biarritz-style green surrounded by falloffs and collection areas. Hole location here is everything, and no spot on the green is easy.
Best par 5: No. 1 (563 | 503 | 469 | 401 yards). From an elevated tee, the fairway welcomes a big first swing of the day. The left side is the more direct route to the hole, but a fairway bunker could nab a bold play. Keep the second shot away from the timber-lined bunker short right or you might question the fun factor that awaits. A pulled approach will carom off the banked left side and into the welcoming embrace of a Redan/Punchbowl-style green and a birdie putt. It’s a wonderful first impression and one of many smile-inducing moments to come.